Saturday, April 6, 2013

Title: Monster Town
Author: Dakota Chase
Cover Artist: BS Clay
Publisher: PRIZM/Torquere
Buy Link:[amazon_link id="B00BTK4L9G" target="_blank" ]Monster Town[/amazon_link]
Publisher Buy Link Monster Town
Genre: YA paranormal
Length: 67 pages/18500

James Dire has a problem. He doesn't breathe fire, suck blood, or sprout fur and a tail during full moons. He doesn't eat babies, or trample cities, or carry screaming women off to his underwater lair. In short, he's about as dangerous and exotic as a boxful of sand.

While this may not be an issue elsewhere, it is in Eden, James' hometown. Here, everyone, from his parents and siblings, to his classmates, to the mayor, are fire-breathing, bloodsucking, fur-sprouting monsters, and James doesn't fit in anywhere.

James always feels excluded and knows he's always suspect because of his difference. He's very shy, has few friends, and his only sense of purpose comes from his job as reporter for the school paper.
When a girl is kidnapped, James's secret crush, gorgeous werewolf, Theo, pulls him into a hunt for clues to find her before it's too late. What they discover is a plot that's much more involved than a simple kidnapping, and may get them both killed.

In Monster Town, there's nothing more dangerous than being ordinary.


Young adult is tricky territory: the age range intended is 12 to 18, and the styles cover the gamut from simplistic to quite literary. Monster Town feels like it should appeal to the younger edge of the range. The sex is nonexistent aside from an embarrassing erection and an almost but didn’t happen kiss. It’s skewed to a high amount of heart-goes-pitty-pat-he-likes-me! And it’s cute. While the story probably doesn’t have enough complexity to interest the older teens, I wouldn’t hesitate to put this story in the hands of 11-14 year olds, for style, the handling of the love interest, and the level of plot. Adults might find it a refreshing quick read.

James feels terribly, terribly ordinary, being a plain vanilla human in a town of idiosyncratic beings. His neighbors range from Bob the big blue blob to zombies and ghosts. A vampire-run grocery store is business as usual, and even his family sports some unusual skills. He doesn’t fit, life is dull, and nothing ever happens. And he can’t say a thing to handsome werewolf Theo, because he’s so danged boring and Theo is so cool. In this, he is a very normal teen.

We get the story from James' first person POV. He's sweet, and rather rollicking in his observations of those around him. He does harp a little too much on his own dullness, which could have been presented a little more enticingly than multiple statements of "I'm so ordinary."

One beauty of this story is that angst over being gay isn’t there. While James feels like an outcast, it’s not for his sexuality, which is just a given. He doesn’t have fur or scales, can’t transform or evaporate or anything interesting like that, though he is considered weird and potentially dangerous because he’s so much like the Outsiders, aka everyone outside their small, vigorously-defended enclave.

Theo and James come together over the mystery of a class-mate’s disappearance, and have to solve it without the adults, who don’t consider young people worth listening to. Adults as buffoons, villains, but not allies, is a thriving trope here. As they work through the clues and the aftermath, James and Theo lean on each others’ strengths and find friendship. There’s a small promise of more, and they’re happy.

There are some inconsistencies with James’ characterization of himself juxtaposed with his small enclave. If regular humans are so vigorously avoided, how does he or anyone know he’s like them? Besides, what’s so ordinary about a guy who can go into the sunlight and not fry, or who has five fingers to a hand and they don’t fall off? Two of them are opposable thumbs, and he’s solid enough to open a door and small enough to go through it, unlike so many of his neighbors. Those are actually not negligible advantages, and if one doesn’t question this, the story works better. The intended audience may not pick up on the oddity of this presentation.

Neither are they likely to have sufficient concept of how a mystery works. Most of the clues are there to be seen, but there are a couple of gaps, making the central conflict somewhat less than fair. The gaps are filled with infodumps later. This might be forgiven as a teenager’s imperfect knowledge of adult business.

The story works on the level it’s meant to resonate on, which is the normality of being gay, peer acceptance, finding strengths, and the young triumphing over their blinkered elders. Perhaps some of the other issues will be addressed in future volumes, because the ending is structured to encourage sequels. I’d read them. 3.75 marbles

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